After several years of spinning my original Killen Sock in 2020 I felt that it was due for a revision. The two main reasons were to increase the twist, which should add to hardiness, and to be able to spin at a lighter weight. After some searching I settled on one of the Yorkshire mills who, after receiving some samples of my Bluefaced Leicester raw wool, were happy that they could spin the yarn well to my specification of 400m/100g. They were able to supply the Mohair element at 20% of the total fibre weight. As I explained in this post, I have tried in the past to source British mohair but haven’t been successful. The 80% BFL comes from one farm, The Arr farm where Muriel and Stuart are specialist pedigree breeders. The Arr is around 1 hours drive south of my base in Fortrose on the Black Isle. The mohair used in the revised Killen comes from South Africa.

I excitedly awaited delivery of the new yarn in summer 2021 – and was delighted with its lustre and drape. The twist was much higher than my previous version and it looked promising as a sock yarn, given that the original had stood well if knit at a tight gauge. I quickly began knitting a pair of vanilla socks, which actually became my first completed pair (which I am slightly ashamed to admit!). Since then I have been wearing them almost continuously to test how they will wear. After 40 days, not all full days (some were too hot!) and quite a lot of walking they are holding up well. From the outside there isn’t too much of a difference, a little shininess under the heel in particular and some roughening and felting of the fabric. I have removed a little pilling over time. Inside they have felted, especially under the ball of the foot. Some fine fibres have worn off but the felting seems to be a positive in terms of strength. I hadn’t actually sewn in the end where I finished the toes, and it has now blended into the felting under the ball of the foot! I knit fairly tightly on 2.25mm – I think ideally I would have used 2mm needles but I didn’t have any with a small circumference cables, which is my preference for this type of project. My gauge was about 40 stitches per 4 inches, which is probably a little higher than is usual for a sock yarn but the revised Killen Sock is dense rather than plump so is quite a fine yarn in diameter compared to other yarns at 400m/100g.

I’ll carry on wearing these socks to see how they continue to hold up. I hope the collage below helps give a good feel for how they have worn. Please excuse the fact that the are not the most perfectly knit socks!

Clockwise from top left 1. Both socks outside 2. top sock inside-bottom sock outside 3. close up of inside 4. top sock inside bottom sock outside

Several lovely women conducted Wool Exploration reviews for me. These are based on the format used by Louise Scollay of WoolWork, and I have Louise’ kind permission to use her spreadsheet. The reviews were conducted over a short space of time and the testers didn’t have the chance to knit a pair of socks and wear them. The link below will take you to the reviews, there are 7 tabs in total which can be scrolled through at the bottom of the page. I hope you find them useful. In addition to my early sock wearing results there seems to be a general consensus that Killen Sock will prove to be a good lace knitting yarn. It holds the pattern well, drapes beautifully and develops a lovely halo on washing and blocking.

WOOL EXPLORATION REVIEWS

Thanks very much to the very kind review group for their time and effort in helping build a picture of the yarn based on their testing and experiences. I hope the reviews will be useful.

Killen Sock dyed with common reed (Phragmites)

Earlier this year, when I had just received the latest batch of Shetland DK and 4ply/Sport back from The Natural Fibre Company, I began looking for a sweater design that would suit Shetland DK. Around the same time Elizabeth Doherty released a new design, the Sian Sweater which immediately caught my eye. Knowing that I would struggle to knit one myself as quickly as I hoped I asked Clare Shaw if she would be able to sample knit for me and luckily she was able to.

Shetland DK Mocha and Toasted Coconut for Sian Sweater

I decided to use natural undyed Mocha for the main body of the sweater but wasn’t sure what to use for the contrast slip stitches on the yoke. The undyed natural White seemed like the obvious option but I felt it might be a little more stark than I was aiming for. I did a little experimenting with alder cones and cutch, and tried both alum mordant and not and modifying with iron afterwards or not. I loved all the results but felt that alder cones and cutch modified with iron (and not mordanted) gave the effect I was looking for. Clare came up with the name Toasted Coconut for this new colourway which I think is perfect.

Toasted Coconut Shetland DK naturally dyed with alder cones and cutch

As usual Clare knit quickly and checked any queries as she went along. I went for the straight version of the design but lengthened the body a little to suit my long torso. Clare felt the sleeves looked quite tight at the point of picking up stitches so she picked up the number required for a Size Four (the body is knit to Size Three). The whole sweater used 395 grams, most of four skeins of Mocha plus part of a skein of Toasted Coconut. I absolutely love the finished sweater. It is easy to wear, comfortable and flattering.

Sian Sweater knit in Black Isle Yarns Shetland DK

I don’t think Elizabeth has the design available to buy on her website at the moment but copies are available from Ravelry here, or if you would like a copy but can’t use Ravelry let me know and I will help out. Clare’s Ravelry project notes are here.

Shetland DK Sian Sweater

Rie and I first made contact with each other through a US based yarn shop, and were paired up for a project which was due to launch late 2020. Sadly that particular three-way collaboration fell foul of coronavirus but Rie and I decided to continue working together.

We agreed that Rie would use Auchen, my sport weight woollen spun yarn, which at the time was newly released. We had some to and fro discussions to decide what sort of colour I should dye and settled on a soft madder shade. We also considered what the theme of our work should be and felt that Crossing Borders seemed to sum it up. Originally we were working as three women in three different countries each with their own strengths and challenges, and Crossing Borders felt like the way we wanted to approach the world. I did some trial dyeing on Auchen and Rie and I picked a beautiful shade dyed with madder and cutch which I have named Crossing Borders. I then sent two skeins off to Rie to work her design magic.

Crossing Borders – Auchen dyed with madder and cutch

Rie is a wonderfully talented designer with quite a distinct quiet but beautiful aesthetic and I was excited to see her design in Auchen develop. The design is everything I could have hoped for, a delicate but cosy shawl designed to drape and keep you warm. The main body of the shawl is a pretty shell lace and the deep border is a simple ribbon eyelet. The shawl can be folded where the triangular lace section changes to the eyelet border and doing so helps the design sit well across your shoulders. Bothe sides of the design are wearable.

Asahi Shawl in Auchen Sport
Asahi Shawl by Rie (@kouvive) in Auchen Sport

Once Rie had almost finished the design we considered what the shawl should be named and Rie suggested ‘Asahi’ which is the Japanese name for the Crossing Borders colour. Rie’s shawl pattern is available on Ravelry here, I don’t think it is available anywhere else but if you can’t access Ravelry please let me know and I will help out. I knit my version of Asahi in Harvest Gold which is dyed with fustic, quebracho red and rhubarb root. The Ravelry notes for the project are here.

Asahi Shawl knit in Auchen Sport Crossing Borders

I have now been wearing my Timely Cardigan for over a year and I still love it. With the beginning of June Scotland has suddenly decided to warm up at last and I’ll be wearing my Timely even more over the summer months – I find it is perfect over summer skirts and shorts, paired with a tshirt or vest top.

Timely Cardigan knit in BFL Suri Alpaca 4ply

I knit my Timely in BFL Suri 4ply, which is a lovely soft drapey yarn which has worked very well for this little cardigan. I used just over two skeins of the natural undyed Silver as the main colour. For the contrast stripe I chose Culloden (which is a lovely tonal pink-red shade, dyed with Lac and Hibiscus, and works really well with Timely’s stripes) and needed just over one skein. I knit Size Three which has a finished bust of 32.5″ giving me around 2″ negative ease. I lengthened the body slightly to better fit my long torso but otherwise made no modifications.

Timely Cardigan knit in BFL Suri Alpaca 4ply

I’m currently knitting a second Timely, with undyed Cream as the main colour and Dragon as the contrast (dyed with fustic and indigo, a dark tonal indigo with flashes of green and orange). I don’t plan to make any changes to the pattern other than lengthening the body again.

I would thoroughly recommend this design by Libby Jonson of Truly Myrtle. You can find my Ravelry notes here, and the pattern can be found on Ravelry or Libby’s website.

I had the crazy idea of knitting myself a new sweater in the run-up to last autumn’s busy show season (Perth Festival of Yarn, Yarndale and Loch Ness Knit Fest all came in quick succession). Unsurprisingly I didn’t manage to finish my Newleaf Sweater quite in time but it was actually a pretty quick knit and I thoroughly enjoyed the odd moment of knitting between lots of dyeing.

Newleaf Sweater in Coulmore 4ply, by Jenn Steingass
Coulmore 4ply – Organic Cheviot First Clip from a single farm on the Black Isle

Newleaf Sweater is a design by Jennifer Steingass. Jenn has published a lot of patterns recently but this is the first I have knit – I really enjoyed it and found it a well written pattern. Initially I had some difficulty with the colour-work as my floats were a bit tight. I commented on instagram and had a lot of very helpful comments. I tried knitting the colour-work inside out as a first step and, since that worked well for me, I didn’t try any of the other suggestions…….but it is good to know there are other options if I have problems in the future.

I knit my sweater in Coulmore 4ply, I knew it would be one I’d wear a lot and the hard wearing, and light, properties of Coulmore 4ply would be perfect. The main colour is the undyed grey from my latest batch and the contrast is a dark grey-blue (naturally dyed of course). I think it would also work well with a dyed shade as the main colour and undyed for the colour-work contrast.

I debated whether to go for the long sleeve or short sleeve version. Eventually I decided on short sleeves, which was definitely the right option for the way I’m wearing it – over long sleeve tops, all day most days! It is great for working in, I can dye without having sleeves in the way. I’m keen to knit more sweaters with short sleeves (though I’m not sure it would work so well in heavier weight yarns).

I knit the second size and used 3 skeins of the main colour and 1 of the contrast.

Pondering Coulmore 4ply colour options for future Newleaf Sweaters!

Annie Rowden’s Winter Hoodie is one of my favourite children’s knits. My mum has knit 5 or 6 of these over the years, all sized a little big so that they can be worn for several years. She recently knit one for her youngest grandchild (and my littlest nephew) in BIY Shetland DK. And I’m very happy to report that he seems to be enjoying wearing it – though catching him still enough to photgraph is quite a challenge!

Can’t beat a toddler tummy encased in wool!

The hoodie is knit with Natural Fawn as the main colour and Natural White as the contrast.

I’m so pleased that Shetland DK is soft enough to be used as yarn for baby and child knits and that it works so well for colourwork. I’d really quite like one of these for myself.

Off he goes!

Another of my mum’s very kind sample knits for me. And another that I wear regularly and completely fail to keep as a pristine sample! The pattern is the Lanes Cardigan by Joji Locatelli, originally published in Laine Magazine Issue 1, but now also available as a separate pattern.

The cardigan is knit in Coulmore DK and works perfectly for this simple cardigan with beautiful details. To quote from Laine: ‘ If we had to choose just one cardigan to wear for the rest of our lives, it would be this one. Fake shoulder seams make a lovely small detail and the collar can be worn folded or unfolded. Knitting this cardigan is like going on an exciting adventure with a friend ending with a trip to a local button shop – or you do it like Joji and finish your knitwear with buttons that used to be your grandpa‘s.

Lanes Cardigan in Coulmore DK, by Joji Locatelli

Unfortunately my buttons aren’t ones that used to be my grandad’s (isn’t that special?) but are lovely wooden ones that mum bought in South Africa – I always think that mum is very good at picking the right buttons to finish off a project.

The sample uses Coulmore dyed with tea leaves, and I love the neutral colour for this simple design. It is knit in size medum and used five 100g skeins. I have been wearing mine for almost 2 years now (a bit of a blogging delay!) and even with very regular use it shows little signs of wear, and almost no pilling. I’d thoroughly recommend the pattern and yarn combination. Coulmore DK works very well for knits that you want to wear regularly. It isn’t the most sophisticated yarn but it is hard wearing and (for me) comfortable next to the skin…………plus the wool comes from one farm here on the Black Isle which supports three generations of the same family, and that in itself is very special. You can read more about Coulmore here.

Once again my lovely mum has been helping me out with some sample knitting – and once again, I’m wearing the so-called sample all the time! St Catherines is a superb design by Kate Davies, who says that it is a ‘shrug-style garter stitch cardigan, with dolman sleeves and short-row shaping‘. Mum knit my version in BIY Bluefaced Leicester 4ply, I love it in this soft, slightly squishy and drapey yarn and find it very wearable – comfortable and flattering. It would also work very well in Bluefaced Leicester Suri Blend 4ply, the addition of the Suri Alpaca in this blend would add even more drape and work very effectively with the deisgn.

St Catherines Cardigan in BFL 4ply

The cardigan used 3 skeins of BFL 4ply to knit the 2nd size (with longer sleeves) and is knit in Seaweed. Seaweed is naturally dyed (as always) with locally collected bramble leaves and indigo. I loves the colour tones I achieve when dyeing with bramble leaves (Rockpool is also dyed with bramble leaves, with more indigo for a deeper shade, and has a similar tonal effect). If you look in the Ravelry gallery here you’ll see you can also knit St Catherines as a striped cardigan, I love it this way too.

St Catherines by Kate Davies

I’ve had the Puzzlewood Mittens pattern on my to-make list since it was first published a couple of years ago. The original design, by Ruth Werwai, was published in the lovely book WOODS, by the Making Stories team. I love that they feature local sustainable yarns – and, in fact, Black Isle Yarns are the original yarns used in the Puzzlewood Mittens design.

Puzzlewood Mittens

I no longer produce one of the original yarns so I decided to knit my pair with two skeins of Gotland DK (one of the two original yarns). I have been testing the colour-fastness of yarn dyed with Safflower and used a sunshiny yellow Safflower skein combined with a soft beige dyed with oak bark. The pattern is a straightforward and satisfying knit. I knit size 2 although I would have been better with size 1. Since taking the photos I have machine washed the mitts to slightly shrink and felt them! With two 100g skeins you could knit two pairs of these mittens, reversing the colour dominance for the second pair.

I’d definitely recommend this pattern as a quick and simple knit.

Puzzlewood Mittens in BIY Gotland DK, Size 2

I thought that I’d talk a bit about how I work and the steps involved in BIY from field to skein – so that if you ever pick up a skein you know just what has gone into it.

Fearniewell Croft

The first stage is to make contact and build a relationship with a farm or smallholding that has a sheep breed I am interested in, and whose land managament and animal welfare meets a high standard.  I’m now working with around 12 local farms and have found them in a variety of ways.  My very first contact (in late 2015 in advance of summer 2016’s clip) was Fearniewell Croft, a local smallholding which operates mostly as an organic veg grower – and since I buy my delicious veg box from Dan and Rachel it made sense to contact them and ask if they would be interested in me buying fleeces from their small Gotland(ish) flock.  The next fleeces came from Jim and Linda’s Hedgefield Zwartbles – Jim had done some work with my husband, and Jim and I then realised we had been forestry colleagues in Aberdeenshire in the 1990s.  Since then contacts have been made through active searching (such as finding Meadows Flock for my first Shetland fleeces) and word of mouth, with farmers contacting me to see if I’d be interested in buying their wool.  Perhaps my favourite find is Coulmore – my friend Emily bumped into this special organic cheviot flock when she was out on a bike ride!

Over the next few weeks I’ll be contacting each of the farms to get a feel for when they’re likely to be clipping and I’ll then maintain contact until shearing actually happens – in an ideal world I’d visit on shearing day but this often turns out to be quite tricky.  Clipping dates are often decided at the last moment, worked around weather and other farm and work duties, and as I have to work around my family and access to our car it often isn’t possible to visit until afterwards.

When I visit each farm I’ll have in mind the numbers and colours (if theyr’e Shetland) of fleeces I’m aiming to select.  But if there’s lots of great quality that number tends to slip upwards, and likewise I won’t buy fleeces which aren’t good enough quality.  I tend to do a bit of skirting at that stage – I can’t help pulling off daggy and coarse bits as I’m handling a fleece (ingrained, I think, from rolling fleeces as a child!) – but each fleece will be properly skirted back at home.  Ideally I’ll do it the same day but often I don’t manage and then I’ll have a mammoth sorting session and clean-up several lots at once.  Once they’re skirted I’ll weigh the fleeces so that I have a running total of each breed and colour.  I really ought to build myself a sorting table, at the moment I crawl around on the ground in our back garden, or occasionally at the front – which I suspect must bemuse (and amuse) some of my neighbours!  Discarded fleece goes around my soft fruit as a mulch and fertiliser, and any excess goes off to a local orchard for a similar end use.

Fearniewell Croft

Having selected, bought and sorted each batch of fleeces they’ll head off to the mill.  Fleeces that go to The Border Mill will have a pre-booked slot (I have several booked per year) and I’ll take a car-load of fleece when I go to visit family in East Lothian, which is just a short drive from Duns where TBM is based. To date the other mill I have used is The Natural Fibre Company in Cornwall so it is more efficient environmentally for fleeces to be sent to them by courier service.  I work closely with the mills to work out a spin plan for each batch – I’ll have my own thoughts but it is always good to make the most of their expertise and advice.

The spun yarn comes back to me on cones and the first step is to skein the yarn – I place the cone on electronic scales while I hand wind onto my skein winder.  I’m much faster now than I was initially but it is still time consuming!  At this stage an undyed skein just needs the appropriate label filling in from my online template, then printing off, cutting to size and attaching round the twisted skein.  I always include the sheep breed, farm(s) the fleece came from, and clipping year – as well as m/100g – on the label.

35g mini skeins (73 in total!) ready for dyeing before Edinburgh Yarn Festival
A special one-off yarn from Coulmore, still on the cone which will be in the next shop update

After winding, a dyed skein goes through several stages.  The first step is to thoroughly scour the skeins to clean them.  I’ll scour several at a time by bringing them up to 70-80 degrees for an hour or so in tap water with a little pH netural dishwashing soap.  If they’re to be dyed with indigo or a dye material which is ‘substantive’ (i.e. a dye that is applied directly without a mordant) they’re now ready to be dyed after being rinsed.  As an example I don’t mordant if I’m dyeing with gallnut.  Often though the next step is to mordant the skeins (with a naturally occuring salt – ‘alum’ or potassium aluminium sulphate dodecahydrate) which helps fix the dye to the fibre and increases light, water and wash fastness.

Bramble leaves, gallnuts and alder cones

I like to collect as much dye material locally as I can and this includes bramble leaves, heather tops, fallen tree lichen, alder cones and beech mast (and this year I want to try hawthorn twigs and leaves amongst others).  Unfortunately though I’d struggle to get a good range of colour without the addition of bought dye material which I buy from respected traceable sources. The exact dye process varies dependent on the dye material but usually involves heat and then soaking for at least several hours.  Often I’ll overdye to create more complex shades or add more than one dye material at a time – and if I’m experimanting I’ll keep adding until I’m happy (or otherwise!) with the shade I have achieved. 

The final step, after several rinses and air drying, is to twist and label each skein………although for a 4 ply yarn I will reskein each of the skeins, once they are dry, before twisting and labelling.  This is my least favourite step as it is time consuming and fiddly, but I find that 4ply can get quite tangled during dyeing and I’d much rather it got to you without any tangles.

A {not quite} rainbow of mini skeins

For yarn that I list online there’s a a final few steps – photographing, editing (to ensure the colour is accurate) and listing each shade and yarn into the shop database.

And there you have it!  I hope that was an interesting insight into what I get up to and what makes each skein of BIY.  If you have any questions please do ask.